Bad news for fans of unelected legislatures: Labour is considering abolishing hereditary peers. According to the Sunday Times, Keir Starmer is drawing up plans that could see the immediate removal of hereditary peers if the party is elected, as part of a package of “interim” reforms to modernise and reduce the size of the House of Lords.
Other moves being explored include introducing a mandatory retirement age or stopping hereditary peer byelections (so the current peers can’t be replaced after they leave).
For the section of the British press who feel terror at the prospect of a Labour government, discussions of Lords “reform” is essentially one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Rather than fire and brimstone, the warning signs are questioning hereditary peers, ending private school tax breaks, decent public services and tackling child poverty (well, maybe not that last one quite yet).
Despite decades of debate, the Labour party’s previous attempts to quash the Lords have never been fully successful. In 1999, Tony Blair’s government managed to end the 700-year-old right for all peers to sit and vote. This got the number of hereditary peers down from 750 but political pressure meant 92 remained, like a particularly stubborn mildew.
And yet it feels like the tide may be turning. Last week, Boris Johnson’s former aides, Charlotte Owen and Ross Kempsell, were sworn in as life peers to widespread criticism, even among their own party. Few moments highlight the need for Lords reform better than the sight of people with barely a decade of work experience making laws for the next 60 years, and for no other reason than it was the whim of a man who nicknamed himself “Big Dog”.